NEW ALBANY — To many people, the holiday season is associated with all that is holly, jolly and merry.
In the run-up to gift exchanges, families often gather together to continue traditions of watching their favorite heartwarming tales, perhaps near the warmth of a crackling fire that emits a gentle light throughout the living space.
Tim Romig, proprietor of the New Albany Odd Walk, has other ideas for the weeks leading up to Christmas, one tinged with a bit of darkness. For the next three Fridays — Dec. 13, 20 and 27 — Romig will lead scores of thirsty lovers of the macabre through the streets of New Albany for the Odd Walk's first annual round of Haunted Pub Crawls.
"We’re going to walk pub to pub, and we'll hear stories here and there," Romig said. "The pubs are actually going to provide someone to tell us stuff about that location. When they finish with their stories, I’ll add another story about something in that area, something close to the pub.”
It will be the latest incarnation of a common nighttime event seen in several cities across the country, including one that previously took place in New Albany. Romig's tweak, however, is that instead of focusing on the summer or early fall months, he is honing in on winter — specifically the holiday season.
“I feel like the old tradition of telling ghost stories around the holidays has just disappeared," he said.
The Hallmark version of Christmas commonly depicted today is nothing more than an invention of modern culture, Romig said. In years past, a much different type of mood was embraced around the holidays.
Ample evidence exists to prove this argument.
To this day in some parts of Europe, festivals are devoted to the demonic goatman Krampus. According to legend, the horned beast punishes naughty children by swatting them with birch sticks. Particularly bad children even risk being stuffed in his basket and taken to the underworld.
Even classic Christmas stories still adored in the United States have some spookiness involved. After all, a Christmas Carol is actually a ghost story at its core.
“It goes back before the Victorian period," Romig said. "It’s the darkest time of the year, and you have the winter solstice. This time of the year, starting around Halloween, people were focused on death. It’s the end of the year, so you have the death of nature with the oncoming winter. During this time period, you have a lot of people telling stories of ghosts coming. In a lot of cultures, it was a time to ponder death."
But with the Victorian age also came the infusion of more religious themes.
"The Victorians took it and made it more Christian-related," Romig said. "It was more about moralistic warning, like getting right with God, sort of like in a Christmas Carol. Eventually, that just kind of died out with the Victorian time period. Next, of course, you get the coming of Santa Claus."
The season became less focused on the morbid, and the phenomenon of modern Christmas merriment was born. It's Romig's hope that his pub crawls will revive the traditions of old.
The three pubs that will be considered regular stops for the walk are Pints and Union, the Earl and Hugh E. Birs. The Double Barrel and the Hitching Post also will be involved in some capacity.
Three or four pubs will be visited during the walk, with every stop lasting roughly 30 to 40 minutes. Only 30 tickets will be available for each tour at a cost of $20.
Attendees will gather at the Odd Shop on Bank Street at 8:20 p.m., with the night expected to wrap by 11:30 p.m. The fact that the first walk is occurring on Friday the 13th makes it all the more exciting to Romig.
"We have a Friday the 13th right before Christmas," he said. "That’s amazing. What better time to hear ghost stories than Friday the 13th?”
Tickets for the Haunted Pub Crawl can be purchased here.